Richard Hyatt: Bitter story of church and racism ends with love

December 3, 2013 

A worship service that could have exploded into discord was lovingly transformed into a Sunday morning of fellowship that exceeded the prayers of the pastor.

The event that occurred at this church on that recent Sabbath could happen just about anywhere.

The story begins with bitterness and ends with love.

Without any real fanfare, a traditionally white congregation had accepted some black members, and on the surface, the newcomers seemed to have found a home. But as the pastor learned, not everyone was happy.

The new black members opened their mail that week and found letters that strongly suggested they ought to find another church home. That they apparently came from a church member was discouraging.

Contents were shared with the pastor who spent the next few days praying and pondering. And this was not something he could ignore. His faith wouldn't let him. He didn't know how pervasive the feelings were, but he had to confront the anonymous writer even if it put his pastorate on the line.

The preacher told his family what was going on and they were prepared to walk out the door with him if that came to pass.

Sunday morning came, and it was time for church, just as it was in places of worship all over the world.

As he stood in the pulpit, the pastor looked around the room. It was business as usual. Longtime members sat in the same pews they always did and there was a good chance that the person who wrote that angry letter was among them.

The black members were also there, huddled together, not knowing what the hour ahead would hold.

The pastor didn't begin with a Bible verse. Instead he read every word of a letter that most of the people had never heard.

There was no sermon, no script and no plan. But what happened was as powerful as any revival service or any prayer meeting.

Without flinching, an old leader of the church got up out of his seat and walked over and sat down next to one of the black families. Others followed his lead while the minister enjoyed a sweet, sweet spirit in the air.

It was an important moment. A crisis that could have shaken the foundation of their church became an opportunity for people to grow and to express the love found in the book they have studied all their lives.

No one knows who wrote that letter and somehow that person's identity doesn't matter anymore. However, the tears and the hugs shared that Sunday morning guarantee nothing.

There will be other conflicts and other ruts in the road. But for just a moment, they knew love.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at

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